Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Spirit Tour Japan

For all of you who live in or around the Tokyo area, this is something you might be interested in.  Staton Ann, a very talented Spiritual Advisor and Intuitive Healer, is coming to Tokyo and will be holding individual sessions on December 3 and 4th.  I don'tusually use the blog to advertise - and actually, I'm not even really advertising....I consider it more like spreading the word.  Besides, I have known Staton Ann for a very long time and I'm very excited that she's coming to Japan to share her gifts and talents here. 

Stat and I have known each other since 7th Grade (I'm not going to disclose how long ago that was, but trust me when I say it was a while back) - in fact, she was one of my best friends.  She, our friend Jamie and I were inseparable for most of 7th and 8th Grade.  When we hit 9th Grade, Stat went into cheer leading and Jamie and I went into tennis so inevitably we sort of drifted. But what makes her upcoming trip to Japan so awesome is the fact that Japanese language sort of reunited us. Our senior year in high school, we had Japanese Class together and we partnered up for our big assignment which was to make a video speaking all Japanese.  I can't recall exactly but I think we were making a travel video so we did sort of a circle island tour of Oahu, stopping at some interesting attractions.  I remember my cousin Sara drove us around and did the videotaping.  We stopped at the original Kua 'Aina on the North Shore (well back then it was the only Kua 'Aina) and I have a distinct memory of us jumping out of a canoe at the entrance of the Polynesian Cultural Center and saying something in Japanese.  In any case, it was the best video EVER! I am incredibly sad that neither one of us has a copy of that video...watching it would've reminded me that I actually could speak Japanese fairly well (which is no longer the case).

So continuing on, we both went off to college and lost touch for a bit but reunited at some point during college (she at BYU in Provo and me at the University of Puget Sound in Washington) and went on a road trip to Canada one Thanksgiving.  On that trip we got our first tattoos together and had some adventures at the Canada-Washington border which I won't get into here.  As it goes in life, we lost touch again for awhile, but 4 years ago her brother and my sister gave us a gift which, although they are no longer together, will keep us in touch with each other probably for the rest of our lives ---our beautiful niece. 

Anyway, I am very proud of my friend and her success and I encourage anyone that has the time to set up an appointment. I know her appointments are filling up fast, so hurry.  Here's a link to more information about the Spirit Tour and about Staton Ann in general ( Spirit Tour ).  Enjoy!!!

Monday, October 22, 2012

I LOVE Weddings

I really DO love weddings. I didn't always love weddings, but I think that since my besties started getting married, I've come to associate weddings with great times with friends/family.  I'm not gonna lie, I have also come to love weddings because they remind me of my own wedding (which by the way, was awesome).

This past weekend Rich and I attended the wedding of friends we have made while in Japan (the groom is one of Rich's co-workers). The wedding was at KKR Porthill Yokohama Hotel which is located at the top of a hill that overlooks the bay. Luckily on our way to the wedding we met up with friends that were also going to the wedding - I say luckily because even though I tried to map it out and find out how to get there ahead of time, I probably still would've gotten lost trying to find it. In any case, our group arrived with time to spare and spent the remaining minutes outside enjoying the scenery, including the area we thought was where the ceremony was to occur (see photo in bottom right corner).  The weather was perfect (not too cold), which I appreciated since I was wearing a dress. After noting the continued absence of guests or anyone official looking, we figured out we were in the wrong location (for those that know our group, this should not surprise you).

The ceremony was held upstairs in the hotel in an indoor chapel with a fabulous view of the bay and bridge - the fact that the ceremony took place at dusk made it a particularly gorgeous sight. The groom came in first, followed by the the bridal party who took their places behind him. The bride entered the chapel with her mom, who put the bride's veil down before they walked down the aisle. A particularly touching moment occurred when the bride (a talented violinist) surprised the groom by performing a musical piece with the best man (a cellist).

After the ceremony, we were ushered upstairs to the reception. I think one of my favorite things about weddings is getting to see how the bride and groom sort of make different aspects of the event their own, so that their guests are like "that's soooo them." After everyone was seated, the bride and groom made their entrance in a dramatic fashion that was definitely "them" - they entered dressed in Yokohama Baystars uniforms as the beer guy/girl. If you've ever been to a Japanese baseball game, you'll understand; if you haven't, see my blog post on it to get a better idea of what I'm talking about re: the beer girls (Baseball in Japan)  After entering the reception hall with the spotlight on them, they proceeded to go from table to table filling the pitchers with beer and providing a basket of snacks to each table. It was great!

After their entrance, the dinner service began. Each course was presented in an impeccable fashion - being a Japanese wedding and all, I expected nothing less. The food was not only beautiful, it was also delicious (and thank goodness the main course was steak, otherwise Rich would've starved). After dinner, there were the customary speeches and a few games. One of the games, which wasn't really a game, called for the guests to see if they had 1 of 3 chocolate pieces hidden in their slice of cake. Since my hubby was out smoking when this took place, I HAD to rummage through his cake to see if he had the chocolate! It's not like I ate any of it, but it was pretty funny when he came back and looked at the state his cake was in - he of course ate it anyway.

Ahh, I almost forgot....then came the part of weddings that up until July 2011 I dreaded more than anything (and hence the reason I omitted this wedding ritual from my own wedding)....the bouquet toss. Don't get me wrong, some people live for the bouquet toss - I'm not one of them.  I think the reason I swore off on the bouquet toss was due to one particular wedding I attended where I purposely went to the bathroom when I knew it was going to occur. Well, to my profound surprise, embarrassment and anger, I actually heard the emcee calling my name (note to all brides: don't do this, especially to your good friends). Anyway, back to this wedding - I will gladly admit that it was quite an amazing feeling to FINALLY be able to stay in my seat and watch other females have to stand up in front of everyone. I'm sure the feeling will wear off but this was the first wedding I've attended since my wedding last year.  After all of this, the bride and groom left and when they returned, they were dressed in their traditional Japanese attire for the cake cutting, thank you's and joining of the families.

The event ended somewhat early, as Japanese weddings are known to have somewhat of a time limit.  No matter though, it was a great night and when we got home, I went through all my wedding photos (haha, just kidding). Congratulations again to the happy couple!!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I'm Back

Ok, I know it's been awhile since I've posted anything. What can I say other than sometimes life just gets in the way. :) In any case, after getting much grief from my friends about my lack of blog posting, I promise to post something soon. First on the docket, highlights from the wedding Rich and I went to this past weekend.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

May 2012 Grand Sumo Tournament Part 2

After we found our seats, we chilled out and took in some of the matches but we still had a while to go before the "real" action started so we ended up walking around the arena for a bit (including getting some snacks - they had the best soft serve I've had in long time). Rich noted that this was one of the most English-friendly events he's been to in Japan - they gave us English programs (i.e., the schedule of matches), there were English informational booklets on sumo and they even had radios you could rent that broadcast the commentary of the matches in English. We ended up renting a radio and sharing it and honestly, it helped out a lot (if we hadn't gotten it, we wouldn't have known there was a playoff for the Emperor's Cup).

The Sumo Tournament: The Grand Sumo Tournament lasts for 15 days and the winner of the tournament receives the Emperor's Cup. The winner of the tournament is the wrestler with the best record of wins over losses (must have won at least 8 of his 15 matches). 

Sumo Ceremonies/Rituals:  If you've ever watched a sumo tournament or even just a single match, you will have seen the various ceremonies and rituals that take place, but you may not necessarily know what they mean.
  • Dohyo-iri (Maku-uchi) This is the "entering the ring" ceremony that occurs immediately before the maku-uchi matches.  The wrestlers for each side (east and west) of the maku-uchi enter the arena seperately in reverse order of rank wearing colorful ceremonial aprons. 
Maku-uchi of the East entering the dohyo

  • Dohyo-iri (Yokozuna): The Yokozuna enters last and is attended by a senior gyoji and two other wrestlers. The Yokozuna then peforms the traditional dohyo-iri ceremony.
Yokozuna Hakuho entering the dohyo

Hakuho performing the dohyo-iri ceremony

  • Water - After entering the dohyo, the wrestlers go through a series of symbolic movements.  In order to cleanse the mind and body, the wrestler rinses his mouth with water and wipes his body with a towel.  The wrestlers also go through a series of other movements such as raising their arms to the side, stamping their feet and slapping their body (to ward off injuries).

  • Shiomaki - The wrestlers scatter a handful of salt to purify the ring and insure against injuries.

  • Chiri-o-Kiru - The wrestlers squat on their toes and face each other in the ring and open their arms wide to show that they respect fair play.

  • Sonkyo - Toeing the mark position (also includes glaring at each other).

  • Shikiri - The wrestlers squat facing each other in a "get set" position using their fists to support themselves.  At this point, the match usually doesn't start right away; rather, the wrestlers can go back to their corners and repeat the process (from shiomaki on). They have 4 minutes to complete this process and at the end of the 4 minutes, they must start the match.  Repeating the process is considered a psychologial thing for the wrestlers to mentally prepare and it also serves to stir up the crowd.

  • Tachi-ai - The initial clash.

  • Torikumi - An initial charge by a wrestler toward his opponent.

Yokozuna's Match: The Yokozuna's match is always the last regulation match.  Hakuho lost his final match and ended the tournament with a 10-5 record.

Emperor's Cup: Often, the winner of the tournament will already be known by the end of the second to the last day based on the wrestlers' records.  However, we got lucky because the winner had not been decided the day before and in fact there were actually 3 wrestlers in contention for the Emperor's Cup depending on what happened in their regulation matches (Tochiozan, Kyokutenho and Kisenosato). Tochiozan did not have to wrestle because his opponent withdrew due to injury so he just waited behind the scenes to see whether he would win the Emperor's Cup outwright (based on his record) or whether he would have to wrestle Kyokutenho or Kisenosato.  Kyokutenho ended up winning his match but Kisenosato did not, so it came down to a single playoff match between Tochiozan and Kyokutenho. 

Amazing enough, the arena was still completely full.  The commentator noted that many people leave right after the Yokozuna's match but because this playoff situation was somewhat of a rare occurence and the winner was anyone's guess, everyone stayed till the end.  The actual match lasted mere seconds and to the crowd's delight, was won by Kyokutenho (from Mongolia).  I'm not sure but I think everyone wanted Kyokutenho to win because he was somewhat of an underdog - he became the "oldest wrestler in the modern age to win his first career title."  Shortly after the match the dohyo was cleaned off and the trophy presentation ceremony began.  We were running short on time so we were only able to watch presentation of the first two trophies (both of which went to Kyokutenho and both of which were HUGE). 

It was a long day, but well worth it..watching a sumo tournament in real life is so much better than watching it on t.v.  If you ever the opportunity to go, I would highly recommend it.  In fact, we are definitely considering going again in September! 

Kyokutenho about to receive the Emperor's Cup

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May 2012 Grand Sumo Tournament Part 1

Although sumo wrestling has never been legally recognized as Japan's national sport, it originated here, this is the only country where it is practiced professionally, and it is definitely a sport beloved by the Japanese people. The Grand Sumo Tournament lasts for 15 days and takes place 6 times a year, 3 of those ocurring in Tokyo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan (January, May and September).  When I saw that MWR was offering a tour to the May Grand Sumo Tournament which included brunch at the New Sanno Hotel, I made sure we got tickets (or rather, I made sure Rich went to the office and got tickets) because going to a sumo tournament was definitely on my list of things I wanted to do before leaving Japan.

The buffet at New Sanno Hotel before the Sumo Tournament
Having grown up in Hawaii, I was familiar with sumo wrestling since I grew up during a time when the success of sumo wrestlers from Hawaii was on the rise and as a result the sport/wrestlers received much publicity on Hawaii T.V. stations. In fact, Akebono was the first non-Japanese to reach the rank of Yokozuna (Grand Champion) and Musahimaru was the second non-Japanese to reach that rank.  The success of Hawaiian wrestlers led to the establishment of the number of foreigners a professional stable could have at any one time.  There haven't been many famous sumo wrestlers from Hawaii in recent years, but a number of wrestlers from other places have been very successful (Mongolia, Estonia, etc.)
We arrived at the Kokugikan around Noon.  Although some matches started earlier in the day, they were only the lower division matches so we weren't really concerned that we missed those matches.  The lower level of the arena is divided into boxes that hold up to 4 people all of whom sit on the ground on pillows.  The upper level, where we had reserved seats, has regular cushioned seats that would have been comfortable except for the fact that we were sitting on them for such long periods of time.  The very top level is open seating on plastic chairs. 

The Annaijo Entrance - these house establishments help
arange for seats, souvenirs, refreshments and other fan
services for those with reserved seats.

View inside the Kokugikan from the lower
level and the upper level.

For those of you that aren't too familiar with sumo, here are some definitions and basics about the sport and its rituals:
  • Dohyo = The ring
  • Rikishi = Wrestler
  • Gyoji = Referee
  • Banzuke = Sumo rankings
  • Mawashi = Loincloth worn by the wrestlers
Rules:  The dohyo is made out of a special kind of clay and the hard surface is covered with a thin layer of sand. A sumo bout is won when the wrestler forces his opponent out of the inner circle or throws him in the dohyo.  The wrestler who touches the ground with any part of his body OR puts any part of his body over the straw bales marking the circle loses the match.  Although there is a gyoji in the dohyo for every bout, there are also 5 judges that sit on the sides of the dohyo.  In the event there is any doubt about the gyoji's decision, the 5 judges will get into the ring and settle the matter amongst themselves - they will either uphold the referee's decision, reverse it or order a rematch.
The judges trying to make a decision on a particular match.
In this particular case, much to the crowd's displeasure,
they ruled that the wrestlers must have a rematch.
Banzuke/Rankings: There are approximately 800 rikishi in professional sumo, from the trainee (i.e., those who have to carry the bags of a more senior wrestler) all the way up to the Yokozuna.  After each tournament, the banzuke is revised with the wrestlers being promoted or demoted depending on their performance during the tournament.

The maku-uchi division is the highest division and is divided into the following ranks:
  1. Yokozuna (the Grand Champion)
  2. Ozeki
  3. Sekiwake
  4. Komusubi
  5. Maegashira
Yokozuna is the only rank that cannot be demoted but it is generally expected that should a Yokozuna have a number of poor tournament performances, he will retire. There have only been 69 Yokozuna over the past 300 years.  Although there can be more than one Yokozuna at any one time, currently Hakuho is the only Yokozuna (he has been the only one since 2010).  Hakuho is from Mongolia and is only the 4th non-Japanese Yokozuna.

The senior wrestlers entering the arena with their attendant
(a trainee or lower ranking wrestler).  I couldn't see over
the wall so Rich had to take the pictures for me.
The fans usually wait on the ground level to get a glimpse
of and to cheer on their favorite wrestler(s) as they
enter the arena.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Harajuku For Dessert....That's How We Roll

This blog post is a continuation of the Kappabashi-Dori post - well, maybe not really a continuation, but it's basically a recap of what we did post-shopping in Kappabashi.  When we were done shopping, it was only around 1 or 2 in the afternoon and since we were already in Tokyo, we decided to do something else while we were there.  Someone suggested that we go to Harajuku since it was Sunday (and Sunday is generally when the "interesting" people can be found roaming Takeshita Street), so we made our way back to the subway station and headed toward Harajuku.  The subway line that we were on didn't stop at the Harajuku Station so we got off at Omotesando Station and walked up Omotesando Street (actually I think it's an avenue but to be honest, I am not sure what the difference is so I'll just stick with Street).

As we were walking along Omotesando Street, we passed a shop/restaurant called Peltier Chocolatier.  They really draw you in with their bright yellow sign and these amazing donuts that are conspicuously placed on a table in front of the window.  They also have a sign with the price of the donuts to make you think that their prices are reasonable (which of course they are not, with the exception of the donuts).  As usual, we were suckers and were drawn in by their clever marketing...and it was also starting to drizzle and we wanted to get out of the rain while we waited for our friend to meet up with us...and it had also been several hours since we ate lunch so we were a little hungry.  What started out as us just taking a casual look at all the chocolates and sweets they had in their glass display cabinets turned into us grabbing a table and sitting down.

It was actually quite crowded inside so we had to wait a few minutes while they cleaned a table (clearly by the look of all the fancy shopping bags at the tables, these people had worked up a quite an appetite shopping) which was totally fine because it gave us time to look at the menu and the desserts in the display cases to decide what we wanted.  I'm not sure if I've mentioned this in any of my previous blog posts, but the Japanese are all about the "sets" when it comes to menu offerings (you can order stuff ala carte, but for just a little bit more you can get a set which usually comes with a drink, rice, salad, soup, etc.).  Here, there were a couple different dessert sets which all included your choice of drink.  The most expensive set on the menu, the "combination set," included a combination of different desserts.

Before we ordered, someone brought up the idea of sharing the combination set, but that idea was quickly shot down as no one really wanted to share.  So it ended up that each of us (there were 5 of us) got our own combination set.  The set came with a piece of chocolate, a macaroon and this chocolate mousse /cake thing.  Each of us got a different type of chocolate and a different flavor macaroon - my chocolate had a yummy caramel filling and the macaroon was lemon flavored.  Needless to say, it was all very good BUT there were definitely some pangs of regret by the group since everything was very sweet and rich and the combination set was just a bit much (I'm sure that won't stop us from doing the same thing at the next place).

After Peltier, we made our way back to the main entrance of Takeshita Street to do some people watching.  By the time we got there, it was really starting to rain and we were all feeling a little sick off of the sweets we just ate and none of us really wanted to deal with that mess of people, so we walked across the street to Harajuku Station and headed home.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kappabashi-Dori - A Shopper's Paradise

Lately, my friends and I have been obsessed with flatware (tea sets in particular), so my friend Marissa suggested we take a Sunday shopping trip to Kappabashi-Dori to see if we could find anything we liked.  Kappabashi-Dori is definitely a shopper's paradise - if you happen to be shopping for flatware, serveware or kitchenware, that is.  Kappabashi-Dori (also called Kitchen Town) is a street located between Ueno and Asakusa in Tokyo and is famous for having tons of shops that sell flatware, kitchen items/tools/gadgets, and basically anything needed in the restaurant industry...including fake food! Although many restaurants have their fake food specially made for them, that can be pricey so apparently a less expensive option is to buy premade fake food from Kappabashi.  Word to the wise (and I'm speaking from experience here) it's not a good idea to go in any of these shops when you're hungry.

We arrived at Kappabashi around 10:30 a.m. and as usual, we were starving. Finding a place to eat in Japan on Sunday before 11:30 a.m. is, as we discovered, incredibly difficult. Since we couldn't really focus on our shopping until we ate, we decided to have coffee at Doutor while waiting for restaurants to open.  Doutor is the "Starbucks" of Japan and although their coffee is actually really good, there is a haze of cigarette smoke throughout the entire place which makes it quite unpleasant for non-smokers (there is a designated smoking section but it's useless since it's right next to the smoking section).

An hour later and stuffed from the delicious dim sum we had at the restaurant across the street from Doutor, we were ready to take on Kappabashi. I will admit, this shopping experience was slightly overwhelming because there was just so much stuff to choose from.  Seriously, you walk in a shop and there are just rows and rows of stuff.  One thing you can count on, if it's related to cooking, serving food or the restaurant industry, you'll find it here. If you ever wondered where you could buy a taiyaki maker (the fish shaped pancake that comes with different fillings like azuki beans or custard), now you know.

There's also a wide range in terms of price - from teapots for 500 Yen to a single cup/saucer set for 15,000 Yen (um, not really in my budget).  I think we were all a little cautious with our purchases because we didn't know what the next store might have and perhaps the next store might have something we'd like better.  A few good things to note about many of these stores:  (1) many of them take U.S. credit cards; and (2) many of them will ship your purchases worldwide. 

At the end of the day, none of us really went too crazy.  I had my eye on this teapot that matched the pink teacups and plates that I got from the 100 Yen store a few weeks ago, but for whatever reason I didn't get it.  Well actually I do KNOW the reason - the reason is that I thought I might see something better at another shop and I didn't want to be stuck with it if that were that case, but it turned out that I didn't find a better one, so I ended up with none. In fact all that I left Kappabashi-Dori with was a bundt pan (which I've been wanting), a plain white teapot for a single cup of tea, and a mortar/pestle (which I've been needing).  However, a day or 2 later, I got a text message from one of my friends expressing regret over not having bought everything she was considering buying....oh well, guess it looks like another trip to Kappabashi-Dori is in our future.